Food Insecurity, Autism Discussed at Final HHSA Meeting

In what was probably the final meeting for the year of the Cuyahoga County Council Health, Human Services and Aging (HHSA) Committee, the committee heard a presentation from David Merriman, administrator of the Cuyahoga County Job and Family Services, and Bob Math, Department of Health and Human Services contracting office. The five members of the HHSA Committee was also joined by District 11 County Councilwoman Sunny Simon.

The presentation was the renewal of a $1,095,450 annual contract administered by United Way for emergency food distribution to residents, with food purchased from the Cleveland Food Bank. For several years, Cuyahoga County has contracted with various organizations to provide money for individuals who find themselves in emergency need of food. For the past five years, United Way has been the lead partner to the county in helping to administer the funds for this service. The lead provider and distributor of the food is the Cleveland Food Bank. Along with money provided by the county, as well as other funding resources, the Cleveland Food Bank distributes approximately six million pounds of food per year, serving 140,000 households and 320,000 individuals. To maintain the quality of the contract, United Way surveys the hunger centers which receive the distributed food for quality, as well as timeliness of delivery. United Way’s administrative costs are about .5 percent of the contract costs.

County Councilman Dale Miller thanked the presenters and said that, along with food insecurity, the heroin epidemic, infant mortality, and other health issues continue to indicate that there is much work to be done on these issues.

The contract was approved by the committee and forwarded to the full council.

The next item was a presentation by Ilana Hoffer Skoff, executive director of Milestones Autism Resources. Milestones is a leading provider of autism support services in the county. The presentation detailed some of the services offered by the organization to support the over 18,500 people who have been diagnosed with autism in Cuyahoga County. The organization supports citizens through meetings, help desk support, connection to vetted organizational resources, and an annual conference that is attended by approximately 1,000 people. Milestones receives approximately $50,000 annually from the county.

The committee also heard from Beth Thompson, program manager for Milestones, who shared that the average age for their clients is 17. The reason why the average age is so high is that there are usually support systems in place for students who have autism who are still in school. Once they graduate, there is a lack of network support.

Council committee members were very interested in understanding if Milestones works with other organizations that support those with autism, including the Achievement Centers. Both Ms. Skoff and Ms. Thompson said that Cleveland is very fortunate to have an organizational network support for autism and that they work very closely with other organizations in the field, including the Achievement Centers and the Cleveland Clinic.

Towards the end of the presentation, there was discussion between Councilman Jack Schron and the presenters on the cause of autism. He asked the presenters whether Milestones gets involved in community conversations such as whether autism is caused by vaccine vs. genetic link, which frequently become a part of conversations surrounding autism. Director Skoff steered away from that question, stating that the organization chooses to focus on supporting those who have already been diagnosed with autism, and that the question is very rarely posed to the organization.